The Ampersand Project

Update: June 20, 2017

The latest application has been submitted to the Canada Council with quite a different approach than has been used so far and, as is often the case, the explanation has become clearer. This is the essential text of the new description of the project.

The Ampersand Project

[Describe your proposed activities, including the rationale for your artistic choices or the inspiration for the new creative work. Indicate when and where you plan to show the work. Include information about the key artist leading the projects.]

The plan is to bring theatre professionals together to create the staging manual for a Christmas Musical, a kit, that will be made available to all communities, which includes: template documents outlining how to mount the show in a gym, or a meeting hall, not just on stage; karaoke-type files, in case the community has no orchestra; dance scores; plus blueprints for sets, props, and costumes.

The libretto is based on “Lug’s Christmas Carol” one in a collection of short stories entitled “5 Fables for the Young at Heart” published by Double Dragon Publishing under my pen name J. Aldric Gaudet.

The story concerns a Christmas tree decorated with damaged ornaments who became damaged the year before in their successful efforts to save the lives of the family they are part of.

As my resume shows, I am a producer, director, and editor as well as the author and playwright. I have published 3 books of Shakespeare, a graphic novel, and the short story collection where “Lug’s Christmas Carol” appears.

Theatre has been in my blood ever since elementary school. Even while studying at Ryerson I was the first RTA student to stage a drama in the TV studios rather than a current affairs show for my term project. In my freshman year I was part of the company that took “Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs” to compete in Ottawa. In my sophomore year I co-produced a blacklight version of “Alice in Wonderland” and used the same text when I directed a Dundas Little Theatre production of “Alice” a few years ago.

My TV and Film career as Producer, Director, or Writer has always leaned toward dramatic fiction like the TV series “The Littlest Hobo” or the Feature Film “Baltic Storm”.

Theatre being such a comfortable fit it seemed a natural extension to bring my short story to the stage and because the story is about damaged ornaments I was inspired to imagine a musical fantasy which included the disabled as singers and dancers.

The goal is to create a safe and friendly environment for those who do not often get a chance to participate in, or experience, the excitement of putting on a show, the ones who usually end up watching from the sidelines.

This is a plan for two seasons. Season One, the music is composed and the lyrics written for a live streaming performance of an audio play version of the show with commentators describing what is not seen, as if they were seeing it, adding personal interest stories revealing how the disabled fit into the cast. That recording is made available during the Christmas season of 2017 and becomes a springboard to raise awareness in the performance arts community of the idea of including the disabled in musical theatre. That will serve to attract the rest of the creative artists needed to fulfill the roster for designing the show and overseeing its testing during a prototype production.

The show celebrates theatre, encourages the disenfranchised to participate, and showcases local talent.

[Briefly outline your work plan, including timeline.]

In early September the composer and lyricist will be tasked with a 2 month deadline for words and music. A voice cast will be assembled and the show will be live-streamed as an audio play in early December. The recording will be made available during the Christmas Season to garner interest in the project.

A postmortem of the live stream event and its audience response, will indicate whatever adjustments will be necessary for the stage show.

The first half of 2018 will be spent contacting and confirming the artists not already affiliated with the project. In August notification will be sent to all artists to prepare to meet in early September to discuss their plans for the project.

During the rest of September the artists will collate their contributions, integrate all elements, plan out how to handle participants with physical challenges, and work the dance routines and swing numbers into the design layout with the approval of the Safety Officer.

The template will be sent into the Hamilton community to organize its production which will be supervised by the contributing artists.

In early October construction will begin on the prototype sets and puppets supervised by the puppeteer and the Set Designer advisors.

After the community run closes, the artists will analyze response cards and debrief the project. Each artist will submit their final report and template documents by January 14, 2019 to the Artistic Director who will collate all material to send with the project review.

[How will your activities contribute to your, or your group’s, artistic development?]

This brings theatre professionals to the community level in order to design a musical celebration that is simple and safe for disabled performers.

Experienced and knowledgeable experts will be able to foresee where caution is necessary and avoid pitfalls while creating the template.

That way the best creative minds oversee the practicality and safety of the template right through to guiding the prototype production by local amateurs in Hamilton.

The artists will be challenged to design a fully flexible inclusive work, to create musical pieces that can safely integrate all ranges of music and dance ability, including choreographing the disabled.

Using video screens as an element of the theatrical palette is a natural extension of my TV experience which I also plan to explore more fully.

Encouraging the disabled to take part – screens with live puppet close-ups – mixed swing and dance choreography – creating a production template for community use. These are all unprobed areas of artistic expression worth exploring.

[If there is anything that has not been asked that is essential to understanding your application, provide it here.]

Even though the intent here is to create something for use by community theatre it is a valid contribution to professional performance arts by exposing the disabled to the joys of the theatre.

In a world of competitive para sports why not para song and dance? Sport is not the only sustenance for the human soul.

The U of BC study on the impact of paralympic games showed that 23 percent of the employers surveyed said the Games had increased their willingness to hire people with disabilities. Attitudes were changed with familiarity.

A community production involves people of all ages, from all segments of the population, who participate voluntarily on equal terms, interacting and co-operating to create one special celebratory event.

A parent could be rigging lights or on stage portraying ‘Mr Kelley’ while their child could be portraying ‘Sandra’ or backstage building sets. That is its most satisfying dynamic.

Communities that take on this project will, at the very least, understand accessibility needs better.

The template will be designed for flexibility to ensure that the production can support itself in box office returns. And, as is traditional in theatre, ornament costumes can be as simple as cast members carrying iconic placards, or as complicated as full body costumes.

[Provide a one-sentence summary of your project.]

To have theatre professionals create the staging manual for a Christmas Musical Fantasy which encourages the disabled to participate.

Who Stole Einstein’s Brain?

In the beginning when the Creative Exchange was the Hamilton Film Liaison a group of us wanted to put our resources to use and create a short film to showcase Hamilton’s special locations, and by their participation, the talented people who live here.

We came up with a Romantic Mystery that would take 2 investigators all around Hamilton.

With Adriano La Vella writing and Jon Soyka and I story editing we ended up with a nice tight little script that paired a gawky professor with a streetlevel PI and sent them off, on foot, looking for a missing piece of McMaster lab material – a slice of Einstein’s brain. If they don’t find it by the end of the weekend the professor loses his job.

The underlying hook of the story is that during the search the PI and the Lab Assistant fall for each other.

Normally there are only a set number of locations you can show off without becoming tedious but we overcame that obstacle by messing with continuity.

We designed many scenes as walk and talks to exploit that.

For example, we plan to show them delivering continuous dialogue while walking out of an outdoor apartment corridor on Quigley Road and step down onto James street, then turn down an alleyway in Dundas and walk past a graffiti wall in the downtown core.

The only people who are in on the joke are those who know Hamilton.

Thanks to Alexis – Marcio – Stephen – Daryl – and Ingy we created a rough version of the first scene just to spark ideas.

Because this is about promoting ourselves and the city this is a completely volunteer project – when we are assured we have support in all areas we will go ahead. But that is up to you by spreading the word or becoming part of the project which is designed to help each other boost each other.

The script is available for anyone to read.

J. Aldric Gaudet

Lug’s Christmas Carol: A Stage Event

Community Theatre

Community theatre is an exciting way to bring diverse peoples together. The resources necessary to mount a production involve volunteers of all ages, from all segments of the population, who participate on equal terms interacting and co-operating to create one special celebratory event.

This event is designed to include those not ordinarily considered for the chorus line.

That is what the original story is about. The wounded and the broken. But it is not a sad story, it is a joyous one, a celebration.

Ground Breaking

The project intends to break new ground.

Creatives will be challenged to design a fully flexible inclusive work, to create musical pieces that can integrate all ranges of music and dance ability, including wheelchair choreography.

Ornament costumes can be as simple as children dressed in black, carrying iconic placards, or as complicated as full body costumes. This deliberate flexibility allows for the inclusion of dancers with missing or damaged limbs who will fit right in with the story of damaged ornaments.

The song and dance numbers will be designed to include as many talented enthusiasts as are capable of taking part, each production a reflection of that community’s unique perspective.

Every challenge is a creative and artistic opportunity to forge another element into the shape of the final outcome.

MC Lug

Lug, one of the ornaments, serves as Master of Ceremonies. He introduces the other ornaments who perform a dance parade and then their puppet double takes its place on the puppet tree.

A new ornament, Hummingbird, complains that the others are all damaged so Lug explains how hand-carved ornaments made by a loving father led to the life force infusing the tree and how that spirit passed along from father, to son, to granddaughter.

Those moments are re-enacted in vignettes spanning many years in once-a-Christmas glimpses.

The ornaments also re-enact their own stories, the climactic one being the enigmatic love story between Drummer Boy and Ballerina who fell in love at first suspension.

The initial parade of ornaments, the linking ceremony, swinging, and the mirror duet are the main song and dance numbers that surround this enchanting story, integrating dance, swinging, videography and puppetry.

In the end a series of accidents results in the tree catching fire, putting the family at risk.

The ornaments frantically swing together rocking the tree back and forth trying to tip it over but it doesn’t until Ballerina sacrifices herself to save them all.

The Finale

The big finish begins when the granddaughter glues Drummer Boy to the mirrored dance floor in place of the lost Ballerina.

With his drum gone and his sticks broken in the fall, his arms are poised as if holding an invisible partner.

His dance is a poignant soulful one of loss.

The ornaments hold a special linking ceremony and Ballerina’s reflection appears in the mirrored floor at his feet. She and Drummer Boy dance an imaginary dance, reflection to reflection.

Everyone joins in for the closing number, swinging and singing in joyful celebration.

Staging Areas

Centrestage Right for the home sets where the family stories are re-enacted on a turntable set that rotates during blackouts to exchange set pieces.

Centrestage for the tree which is operated by puppetry.

That leaves Centrestage Left clear for the swinging plus all Downstage areas for the parades, dances and other choreography.

Video screens either side of the proscenium show live close-up coverage from remote controlled cameras of the actions of the puppet ornaments in the tree.

At the upper corners of the proscenium are spotlight areas where Lug and Hummingbird interact and narrate.

The Ampersand Project

A gathering of creative performance artists with the purpose of designing a community event that celebrates theatre, encourages the disenfranchised to participate, and showcases local talent.

The event is a celebration of the Christmas season, the staging of a life-affirming musical fantasy.

It is the kind of project that vitalizes a community because it brings people together from various areas of life, ages and skill sets. That is its exciting dynamic. Parents can keep an eye on their rehearsing children while helping construct a set, or vice versa.

Those who come as audience will enjoy the show’s uplifting theme. Those who participate will become the theme, as the project itself is as much the theme as the story is.

Shaping it

The intent is to make the cliche hold true, use every challenge as a creative and artistic opportunity to forge another element into the shape of the final outcome.

The focus will always be making integration into each community as seamless as possible. That begins at the design stage as various artists working together, create plans and descriptions, then during preproduction as ideas develop and plans are adjusted, and finally after the show closes, where final reports are made based on hindsight.

The results will be the template for the show, completely flexible and adjustable for any community, and therefore each performance becomes a reflection of that community’s unique point of view.

The Shapers

Artistic Director – J. Aldric Gaudet – to oversee the project’s mandate and execution.

Director – to design the blueprint for the show and direct the first cast.

Choreographer – to design the dance numbers, integrating wheelchairs and swing work and manage the first performers. To create a template document.

Puppet Master – Melanie Skene – to design, create and construct puppets and train the first operators.

Composer – Mia Hackett – to write the music and to guide the first musicians.

Songwriter – Benjamin Hackett – to write the lyrics and guide the first singers.

Aerialist – to design the rig and to train the first swingers.

Set Designer – to create the style of the set and integrate it for quick scene changes and manage the first crew. To create a template document.

Costume designer – to design the costumes in consultation with the Puppet Master and manage the first wardrobe team. To create a template document.

Lighting Designer – to plan and design the lighting and manage the first tech team. To create a template document.

Video Technician – to program and coordinate the video and live cameras and manage the first video team. To create a template document.

Audio Designer and Technician – to plan and coordinate the sound and manage the first sound team. To create a template document.

Stage Manager – to schedule and coordinate the rehearsals and staging of the show. To create a template document.

Be a Shaper

If you want to be on the shape team contact me.

 

Pit and Pendulum: A Cinematic Experiment

Editing is the key to cinema.

When I first read Poe’s story about a prisoner being tormented by unseen jailers, I visualized it. I saw the prisoner, the cell, the pit, the fiery walls, all quite vividly in my mind’s eye.

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For that is the power of well crafted words, they provide brushes for the reader’s imagination to paint with.

Cinema can do the same, yet few filmmakers are able to restrain themselves from papering over everything.

“By offering an incomplete image or process, Poe involved his readers in the creative process in a way that Baudelaire, Valery, T. S. Eliot, and many others have admired and followed. Poe had grasped at once the electric dynamic as one of public participation in creativity. Nevertheless, even today the homogenized consumer complains when asked to participate in creating or completing an abstract poem or painting or structure of any kind. Yet Poe knew even then that participation in depth followed at once from the telegraph mosaic.” Marshall McLuhan – Understanding Media (1964)

Poe’s story is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate this in cinema.

The Pit and the Pendulum is a first person narrative with no onscreen dialogue which means the narrator and the prisoner can be different people.

The power of the concept comes from using cinema techniques to influence the Viewer’s imagination, so the less shown, the better.

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Consider the famous shower scene in Psycho. Many believed they saw the knife puncture the flesh, the moment was so powerful, yet every student of cinema knows the knife never punctured anything.

How is the Viewer made to imagine they are seeing something that is not there?

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Consider the opening scenes of Jaws when the girl is attacked by the shark. The Viewer imagines what is happening beneath the water and the moment is all the more horrifying because of it.

27 minutes.

A wide shot of darkness, one person, the Prisoner, clad in simple grey pajamas, is lit by a single pool of light. There are no details or textures, it is simply blackness surrounding her.

The Prisoner stands looking up listening while unseen judges pass sentence, as told by Poe’s Narrator. Silhouettes of candles represent the judges.

After sentencing the Prisoner passes out and finds herself transported to a dark dungeon.

She gropes her way around blindly, and while pacing out the size of her cell, stumbles, falling at the edge of a circle of light – the edge of the pit she almost stepped into.

We look up at her looking down while the narrator describes her conjectures about what might be waiting for her in the pit.

The Prisoner backs herself into a corner and huddles there determined not to move. She passes out again.

The Prisoner’s thoughts upon re-awakening to discover herself strapped down on her back and her ensuing observations of her surroundings, the discovery of the rats, and then of the Pendulum, are narrated while we study her from multiple angles.

Many elements together make this sequence terrifyingly real:

a GUST of air to disturb her hair when the blade passes close;

the SOUND of heavy gears moving during the swing;

a rhythmic WHOOSH which grows in presence as the blade descends,

the WHISTLE of its steel when it is passes closest;

pendulum POV shots swinging over the Prisoner,

and ACTING skills

all provide depth and texture, working together to transport the Viewer into the claustrophobic, mind-wrenching world of Edgar Allan Poe.

To get that kind of involvement, that kind of commitment, from the Viewer, requires effective use of every cinematic technique at our fingertips, lighting, cinematography, acting, Foley, editing, etc., to provide enough sensory imprints with which the Viewer can construct a personalized setting for the horrifying events.

The massive pendulum mechanism is made from the movement of shadows and flashes of light which provide the framework for the Narrator’s words.

The Viewer is the architect of the dungeon, its smells, its textures, and will create far more terrifying images than any that can be built.

Elwy Yost

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The roots of this was a project Elwy Yost and I were working on. He wanted to narrate classic stories in the public domain and add simple visuals as illustrations. Although the project did not get the greenlight one of the stories we planned to do stuck in my mind.

A story narrated by the victim of unseen tormentors.

“In the confusion attending my fall, I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance, which yet, in a few seconds afterward arrested my attention. It was this: my chin rested upon the floor of the prison, but the upper portion of my head touched nothing. At the same time, my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapor, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit.”

Narration that is as terrifying as any imagined horror.

“I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen, glistening axe upon my chest. I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe — and with this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen, collected calmness of despair.”

With a little judicious editing of a few dated references, the story becomes universal, timeless, it could take place in 1843, 1943, or 2043.

Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s name has proven staying power and interest. His works have been international classics since the 19th century.

He is respected as a respected American author in both literary and popular circles so there will be interest.

As Elwy saw it, this is about illustrating a classic rather than re-interpretating it.

Needs.

It waits upon timing, funding, and an actor skilled in body movement.

The Piper: Beginnings

After seeing Atom Egoyan’s film The Sweet Hereafter, I wanted to try and understand it so I looked deeper and learned it was based on a novel of the same name and both were about the aftermath in a town where all the children had been taken away. In this case, due to a tragic school bus accident. Incredibly depressing.

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In their comments both creators referred to the legend of the Pied Piper as inspiration. I thought: ‘the legend can’t be that depressing.’ Yeah, it can. And worse. In the legend, the children are taken away and sealed inside a mountain forever.

I could not imagine a more depressing story to tell.

The Contrarian that I am wanted to turn the story upside down. Have the pipe make horrible noise instead of sweet music, and save the children. Make it as terrifying as possible but give it a happy ending. I set it in a post-apocalyptic future without electricity or machines. A medieval lifestyle set amongst the ruins of a future I call: The Future Past.

It was fun to write but when I came to my senses I knew such a screenplay would take forever to get produced. There are too many hurdles for movie makers. Working with children is difficult and requires strict rules of work hours. Horses and their handlers require food, training and shelter. Dogs even more so, although CGI work like that used in The Revenant would make it simpler, CGI actually raises costs. Fire effects and explosions, plus stunts, require even more time and effort.

But I still wrote it. It was entertaining. I just didn’t care how I would ever get the movie made.

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Then I saw Road to Perdition, a live action movie made from a graphic novel and realized that there was a way to tell this story without incurring all those prohibitive costs. A creative artist can take us anywhere with a few brush strokes. I could turn the screenplay into a graphic novel, except I can’t draw a circle. I had to find someone who could, and would, be willing to tell my story.

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